Q&A with Jan Mills: Driving gender equality across nutraceuticals industryQ&A with Jan Mills: Driving gender equality across nutraceuticals industry
Artemis International CEO Jan Mills discusses gender equality across the nutraceuticals market and provides advice to women with management aspirations, in part II of a Q&A with Natural Products Insider.
May 24, 2023
Natural Products Insider: What inspired you to join WIN’s board of directors?
Jan Mills: I was one of the founding members of WIN shortly after SupplySide West in October 2021. I was on a panel at the Nutrition Capital Network (NCN) event talking about gender equity. Normally, I’m not all that interested in talking about this issue because it often feels like tokenism. This time, I was intrigued because this issue was being addressed at a forum for investors who were hearing pitches from vetted companies looking for investment. The attendees paid a lot to go to this forum, so presumably someone thought the topic relevant enough to discuss.
At one point, I commented I was dismayed that at my stage of life, after being at the forefront of women entering executive track, we were still talking about the same issues and substantive progress had not been made. I addressed the young women in the room to say they must be angry about this. The response was enthusiastic applause. I remember thinking to myself, “Yeah, we all should be angry and maybe the time has come to actively do something about this in our industry.” I’d reached the point in my career where I had success, experience and time to give back, and so I could step up to the task.
The chemistry of like-minded women was there, and we all saw the opportunity to make positive change. Lauren Clardy was a co-panelist, Heather Granato was moderating, Lynda Doyle was reviewing the pitches. As more supporters stepped up to the concept of WIN, the enthusiasm grew. It was, and is, exhilarating to be part of such a talented and creative group of women and men.
It was very important to me that WIN would be focused on concrete goals, and as a WIN founding board member, I thought I could help frame this. In my career, I have been part of women’s “networking” groups, and while they were often fun, I don’t believe they accomplished a thing. At this point in my career, I want to see concrete results. I want WIN to be a beacon for the power of diversity.
Natural Products Insider: As the CEO of a nutraceuticals ingredients supplier, you likely have many conversations with other leaders across the industry. Would you say that, by and large, your male counterparts treat you today as an equal in business?
Mills: For the most part, yes. But there are two parts to this question.
First, I don’t let them treat me as anything other than an equal. This is an important message, especially for younger women. Practice your demeanor. Meaning, conduct yourself in such a way that you assume power and exude competence. Act; don’t react. Learn when you need to call them out as a jerk, and when to use your skills to set them aside. When you encounter resistance, keep the personal out of it. Stick to the issue or problem at hand. If you stick to the issue, it’s harder for them to see you strictly as female. Your persona is more professional.
It doesn’t always work.
Second, when I do encounter unequal treatment, it’s usually institutional or unconscious. This is much harder to combat. I find most of our male colleagues do not think they have an unconscious bias, but they do indeed. Few would intentionally speak to me in a demeaning way. Even fewer would think or speak out in a misogynistic way but, surprisingly, it still happens.
Jan Mills (right) with Leslie Gallo, president of Artemis International and a member of Women in Nutraceuticals.
Natural Products Insider: Can you share any anecdotal stories of how the growing number of women in our industry has or has not changed the work environment and attitude towards women in the workplace, including females in management?
Mills. The first one that comes to mind is a recent one. I was at a women’s networking event where a young woman told us she had challenged her boss on why he didn’t promote more women. She was told the tiresome story that he couldn’t find qualified women. I just blew up. Here we were, in a room full of talented women, and there was not one recruiter in sight, not one male exec from a major corporation, and not one male venture capitalist. [I have] two takeaways. One, open your eyes guys! And, if you can’t find qualified women, make them (like General Motors made Mary Barra.)
While I do think it’s important for women to network, we need to change the networking event paradigm. Would a man want to go to a women’s networking event? Sounds exclusive—not inclusive—to me. What we need are events that showcase women in a more direct way, and in a way that inspires men as well.
Natural Products Insider: In your opinion, what are the most common reasons today that women fail to advance into management roles and the C-suite?
Mills: In my opinion, the biggest reasons, hands down, are institutional and unconscious bias.
Institutional bias is the way companies are structured organizationally and socially, the way they recruit, and the type of experience they require for advancement. For example, women who have taken a few years off to raise children have an incredibly difficult time getting back on their career track. In part, this is because socially we have been trained to denigrate the work of raising a child or running a household. I’ve found mothers returning to the workplace are often more efficient and make excellent employees. But institutionally, some firms still seem to view that taking time to raise children is the equivalent of taking time off to find oneself through psychedelics. Lack of benefits that are relevant to women create an institutional bias. For example, I’ve often heard the argument that men don’t need childcare, so why hire women? Right there is the problem. Until men step up to equal care in the family, there will always be inequality.
Regarding unconscious bias, I think all women recognize and have experienced the unconscious bias to their face—the mansplaining, talking over us, the exclusion from events and conversations, and so on. We are also aware that this unconscious bias also takes place behind closed doors. So and so is just not “quite right” for the job, often meaning they are not big, white and male. However, the hiring manager(s) can’t put their finger on exactly why this person is not right.
I am convinced most men in our industry consciously see the value of gender equity but don’t see the impact of their institutional and unconscious biases. I think offering ways to help men (and women) recognize their biases is something WIN could tackle.
Natural Products Insider: What advice do you give young women with aspirations to advance to management in the nutraceuticals space or other industries?
Mills: There’s a lot to consider.
Do not be afraid to ask for advice and/or mentorship from a senior executive, either male or female. More people want to see you succeed than you think.
Do not back away from your own ambition.
Do not let anyone else define you.
Ask for more money. Look them in the eye and tell them you earned it—and make sure you do earn it.
A lazy boss can be an opportunity for career advancement. Do their job for them, and make sure the credit is obvious.
Prepare yourself. Get the right education, demand the right jobs, read up on anything that gives you an edge. When you’ve sorted out the next step on the career ladder, act as if you are already doing the job; you are not a trial run and you are not asking for a chance. You are assuming a position that is undeniably yours.
Always introduce yourself with your first and last name.
Always recognize and support the people working with you. Sharing your success is more likely to result in their support for you, and everybody’s happier.
Natural Products Insider: Any parting words?
Mills: As women, we need to hold our ground. That said, we also need to be sensitive to the fears of the power structure. The ground is shifting beneath their feet, and that’s unnerving. By and large, I find men don’t fully understand our experience in the workplace, and therefore don’t really understand the problems we encounter. We need to talk about what we experience—something that was totally taboo in my early career—so that men will see that some of the changes necessary are not so big, that the benefits are for all of us, and that our businesses will flourish. That change doesn’t have to be win/lose. I believe there is a time for revolution, and I embrace that. But if I can choose evolution over revolution, I think we will all be more successful.
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